Bullying can occur in adults and children and may be physical, verbal, social, cyber, sexual, or prejudicial. A person may bully another individual using more than one type.

People who experience bullying may experience a variety of mental and physical symptoms. These can affect their quality of life, mental health, and school or work performance.

This article looks at different types of bullying and what a person can do if someone bullies them.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Physical bullying involves any form of repeated physical aggression toward another person. This can include aggressive or violent behaviors such as hitting, tripping, or kicking. It can also involve stealing or damaging possessions.

According to a Department of Education report, 5.3% of children ages 12–18 years have experienced incidents of physical bullying, such as someone pushing, shoving, or tripping them or spitting on them, and 1.4% have had someone purposefully destroy their property.

According to research, bullying is generally most common in children ages 12–15, and males are more likely than females to engage in physical bullying behaviors. Research suggests males are also slightly more likely to be the targets of physical bullying.

A person typically uses physical bullying to enforce a power imbalance.

Verbal bullying is a type of emotional abuse in which someone uses words to belittle another person or inflict fear or humiliation.

This form of abuse is widespread among children and adults in various circumstances, including in schools, workplaces, and personal relationships.

Verbal bullying can take several forms, such as:

  • insulting a person or calling them names
  • unfairly blaming or criticizing someone
  • threatening a person
  • humiliating or ridiculing a person
  • manipulating someone

A study from 2019 suggests that verbal abuse damages a person’s self-esteem and can harm their mental health.

Verbal bullying could increase the risk of mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and may lead to substance misuse.

Social bullying involves someone attempting to deliberately harm a person’s relationships, social standing, or reputation. This form of bullying occurs among children and adults but is most common in schools.

Perpetrators of social bullying may act out of insecurity and a desire to control others. They may lack social skills and empathy and bully others to make themselves feel better about social difficulties.

Examples of social bullying include:

  • spreading rumors about someone
  • purposefully excluding a person
  • publicly humiliating a person
  • influencing others to avoid an individual

Social bullying can negatively impact a person’s mental health, quality of life, and academic and work performance.

People who are the targets of social bullying in school may be more likely to discontinue formal education after high school and may be at higher risk of developing various health issues.

Cyberbullying occurs over digital devices, including computers, cell phones, and tablets. This form of abuse may occur in public online settings such as social media platforms and forums or over private messages.

Some instances of cyberbullying are criminal acts.

Cyberbullying may involve:

  • disseminating harmful or humiliating content about someone
  • sending threatening or unwanted messages or content to a person
  • sharing a person’s private information
  • spreading rumors through digital means

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that around 15.9% of high school students have experienced cyberbullying.

Similarly, research from the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice suggests that around 16% of students ages 9–12 years experienced cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying may be an especially concerning form of bullying, as people engaging in it may gain constant access to the people they target.

Instances of cyberbullying may also contribute to a person’s permanent “digital footprint,” which could negatively influence their reputation and prospects.

Sexual bullying involves physical, verbal, or online bullying that includes unwanted sexual actions or behaviors. These may include:

  • touching a person without their consent
  • making sexual jokes
  • making lewd gestures
  • “sexting,” which involves sharing or sending sexual messages, images, or videos
  • spreading sexual rumors

In a 2019 national survey, 81% of females and 43% of males reported experiencing sexual harassment or assault. Of these:

  • 76% of females and 35% of males reported verbal sexual harassment
  • 49% of females and 18% of males reported unwelcome sexual touching
  • 40% of females and 21% of males reported cyber sexual harassment

Sexual bullying can result in various negative short- and long-term consequences, including symptoms of depression and anxiety, social withdrawal, and substance misuse.

Prejudicial bullying is based on factors tied to a person’s identity or social standing, such as their sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or disability.

Research suggests that children who differ from their peer groups in certain ways or belong to minority groups are more likely to be the targets of bullying than their peers. This may include children with disabilities or obesity and those with different ethnicities or sexual orientations than the majority of their peers.

Prejudicial bullying may include any act of bullying motivated by prejudice. This may involve insults and slurs that are racist, homophobic, sexist, or ableist.

If someone experiences bullying, reaching out to friends, family members, or a trusted staff member at their school or workplace may help.

Teachers, counselors, principals, or superintendents may be able to implement and enforce anti-bullying measures in schools. School staff members may also help facilitate discussions between children and their parents.

If an adult experiences bullying in the workplace, they can seek help from:

  • their human resources (HR) department
  • a trusted supervisor or manager
  • an employee representative
  • a mental health professional

It may be best for people who experience cyberbullying to take screenshots of the instances of abuse and save messages as evidence. They can also set their social media profiles to private and block cyberbullies wherever possible.

People can report cyberbullying to social media sites, internet providers, and schools.

If an act of cyberbullying constitutes a crime, a person can report it to law enforcement. This includes instances of cyberbullying that involve:

  • photographing or recording a video of a person in a place they would expect to be private, such as a changing room
  • threats of violence
  • explicit sexual content or child pornography
  • stalking and hate crimes

If possible, people who experience bullying may wish to seek support from a mental health professional to help them manage the effects of bullying.

Several organizations provide resources, support, and access to communities of people with similar experiences. See below for more details.

The following organizations help people who experience bullying.

STOMP Out Bullying


The National Association of People Against Bullying

No Bully

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (United States)

Crisis Text Line

The Trevor Project (for LGBTQ+ youth)

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Several types of bullying affect children and adults. These include physical, verbal, social, sexual, and prejudicial bullying.

Bullying may involve a person trying to enforce a power imbalance between themselves and the person or people they target. Those who experience bullying may be at higher risk of mental and physical health complications.

If someone experiences bullying, reaching out for support may help them manage the situation. Parents, teachers, fellow employees, and mental health professionals may be able to offer solutions or support.